Friday, December 11, 2009
Courtside at the Cop
December 8. Sitting in on a plenary session at COP15. The first time I have ever seen such a thing. They're having a…discussion (and I use this term loosely) about a particular point in the climate treaty having to do with “carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) in geological formations.”
This basically means pulling all the carbon out of the effluvia from, say, the smokestack of your coal-fired power plant, wadding it up into a big ball, and burying it deep in a handy hole in the ground. For example, in a dried-out oil well in Saudi Arabia. More on that in a moment.
CCS is more of an idea and a focus of ongoing research than anything else. It certainly isn’t a proven, workable, and cost-effective technological solution to excess CO2. This is why, when people talk about clean coal, they’re philosophizing more than strategizing. Clean coal depends on fully-functioning CCS technologies, and we don’t have that. Therefore there is no such thing as clean coal.
The proceedings are difficult to follow at first because every delegate making a comment was reading from a statement prepared by an official working group, and which used dense, arcane, highly academic/political language designed to (as far as I can tell) not annoy your allies and not commit to anything you haven’t been authorized to commit to while still trying to move things in a generally positive direction.
I’d been wondering why it’s been so hard for the world to come up with a solid climate treaty, and here's the answer live in front of me.
Burkina Faso (all the delegates are referred to by the name of their country – it’s very Shakespearean that way) talks for 2 minutes about the relationship between energy, ozone-depleting chemicals like CFCs, and carbon dioxide, but I have no idea what he's actually saying.
Brazil goes totally over my head, and Sweden says some generally positive things about the idea of CCS, but doesn’t seem to have a big emotional investment in it.
Australia is the first moment when my Effluvia Meter goes into the red zone. I'm prepared for some shuck and jive from Down Under because they’ve just had a big political turnover and the incoming party is very right wing and opposed to doing anything to save the planet. Australia is all about making robust CCS projects.
I would imagine since the majority of the continent is dry, hot, wasteland, they feel like they’ve got a lot of room to bury the rest of the world’s carbon. For a reasonable fee, of course.
Within the space of a sentence or two, we hear that “CCS is a mature technology” (well-developed and ready to roll) and that “CCS is in need of much more development” (not a mature technology).
Now comes Saudi Arabia, who says, “The most promising technology to achieve the objective of reducing CO2 is CCS.” Mr. Arabia is very upset about the fact that there are no CCS projects in his country (even though there aren’t any CCS projects anywhere), and demands in a petulant, teenager-like way, inclusion of CCS in the treaty.
The Saudis want CCS because pretty soon they're going to have a bunch of big holes in the ground where their oil used to be, and like Australia, they’d be very happy to let us stick our carbon there. For a reasonable fee.
Kuwait pipes up like Saudia Arabia’s annoying younger brother. “It’s true! It’s true!” he whins. “CCS works! Look on the internet!” I’m serious. As if all the delegates here are going to turn around, slap their foreheads, and say, “Oh my Allah, Kuwait! I never thought of that! The internet!”
And then, from out of the proverbial darkness, speaks Mighty Little Grenada, of Conquered-By-Great-Britain-In-A-Weekend Fame. In a voice of Truth and Clarity, he basically says, “Why are we spending so much time on an immature technology? Australia is full of crap. Let’s get on with it.”
Jamaica promptly gives Grenada the equivalent of a High Five and Buttslap, and Paraguay drives the point home with the moral argument that focusing on CCS implies that emissions can continue unchecked, and this sort of thinking will stand in the way of real plans to end dependence on fossil fuels. I started to cheer and applaud for Paraguay, when I realize that this sort of thing is frowned upon at formal UN negotiations. I’m such a barbarian.
More news as events progress...